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June, 2009 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - June, 2009

Weasel words

 In a friendly discussion over dinner with Ceci, Mr. Henry brought up the topic of swine flu.

“H1N1 flu!” she said sharply. “Use the correct terminology.”

The rebuke smarted. Mr. Henry is unaccustomed to being upbraided for political incorrectness especially with regard to his favorite entreé, the noble and virtuous swine, baron of the barnyard. Striving always to use correct terminology as well as correct grammar Mr. Henry would never knowingly insult a pig.

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Ceci happens to be U.S. director of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, an organization that has inaugurated a new and useful system for labeling foods as well as supermarkets according to degree of humane treatment.

With a score of 76 points, Whole Foods wins by a mile. At the back of the pack, Wal-Mart gets 10 points. Clearly such labeling is still in its infancy but the effort is worthwhile.

From the site you will learn that “natural” is a weasel word not clearly defined by law or custom, a word often more misleading than helpful.

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Oops. There he goes again employing unfair and harmful species stereotypes against benighted weasels forever condemned in the public imagination to notorious roles of thieves and sneaks while they simply try to provide for their weaselly little families. Mr. Henry sincerely regrets the error.

Chicken livers

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Mr. Henry forgot the livers.

It could happen to anyone. It could even happen to you if you had endured three solid weeks of liquid skies.

In New York it’s been raining forever. Strange never-before-seen varieties of mushrooms are sprouting from tree roots and branches. The baby hawks have frizzy feathers. Liberal-minded New Yorkers have acquired new empathy for Bangladeshi villagers in monsoon season.

Friday afternoon a soggy Mr. Henry’s lumbered into Citarella. Center cut pork chops, sweet potato purée, asparagus under the broiler, and cucumber salad constituted his quick and easy dinner menu. The humidity, however, had sapped his strength. He needed fortification.

For strength nothing beats chicken livers, especially chicken livers Moroccan style.

To rinsed and trimmed livers add salt, black pepper, chopped garlic, a teaspoon or more of cumin, a half teaspoon each of curry powder and hot paprika (cayenne works very well, too), and a couple tablespoons of olive oil.

After the livers have marinated for a good long while, sauté them in their marinade and serve them on toast with lots of chopped cilantro (or parsley). Finish with cold clementines.

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Normally Mr. Henry marinates for a few hours, perhaps a day….marinates his livers, that is, not himself. But this time he plainly forgot. Since no one else in the family enjoys this hearty delicacy, no one missed them at table.

On Monday he remembered. What would a weekend bathing in strong spices do to a chicken liver?

It worked miracles – an intensity of flavor never before experienced. Considering the gravity of the moment, he felt it appropriate to open a bottle of Burgundy at lunchtime.

At breakfast…

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John Updike writes in his final book Endpoint:

                                              Perhaps
we meet our heaven at the start and not
the end of life.

If Updike is remembered only for a single line, this should be the one.

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Although Mr. Henry’s rejoinder may not achieve the eloquence of Updike’s iambic pentameter, here goes:

At breakfast you may eat the sweet
you left untouched the night before
and greet the day’s beginning with
the satisfaction knowing that
tomorrow you’ll have more.

The sweet in question this week is Mr. Henry’s favorite dessert from a platter of figs: prunes stewed in red wine with sugar and cinnamon. On yogurt it transports you to a heavenly realm.

The season is early for pit fruit – peaches, plums, nectarines. White peaches in the market aren’t bad but cannot approach the sublime aromas they exude in August.

Citrus in June has faded a bit from the high quality of springtime Indian River fruit, but pineapple remains a dependable choice. Its palate-cleansing acids encourage good digestion leaving the stomach full and the mouth clean.prunes.JPG

Breakfast is the one moment of the day when something sweet is genuinely appropriate. Coffee’s bracing bitterness seeks balance in a delicate, sophisticated sweet. Instead of an icky, oily gut bomb like a doughnut or a Danish, reach for plum tart, apple pie, banana bread.

Even the morning mayhem brought to you by The New York Times cannot defeat the genuine thrill of such a breakfast. It’s a transcendent experience – life’s promise in each mouthful. Plus, you have the whole day ahead of you to walk off the calories.

Fish caper

Mr. Henry was short on time and on ingredients. Ocean caught off St. Augustine, cleaned and frozen in skim milk right on the boat, mahi-mahi filets had not yet completely thawed. At 11:15 a.m. Mother Henry was ravenous, asking whether her son was ever going to fix that fish.

When lunch is late, Mother Henry is not at her best.

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How do you hurry a mahi-mahi onto the lunch plate? The answer is salt.

Sea salt liberally applied helped the fish thaw. Scouring the fridge for ingredients, Mr. Henry found a bottle of capers, a lemon, and some dried parsley flakes – just sufficient to construct a sauce piccata.

Dredge the salted filet in flour (with black pepper) and sauté to a light brown in a mixture of butter and olive oil. Remove to a serving plate and deglaze your pan with lemon juice, white wine, or both. (Add more butter if you want more sauce.) Add capers and chopped parsley (fresh is preferable), combine briefly and pour over the filets.

From start to finish the whole thing won’t take more than five minutes, so don’t begin until your guests are ready to eat.

The recipe works equally well with filet of veal or breast of chicken. To assure the meat is evenly thin, pound it flat beforehand between plastic wrap.

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Capers are a curiosity – immature flower buds cured in brine or vinegar. The best ones are Italian cured only in rock salt. Before using these you should them soak in cold water for a few minutes.

Mr. Henry’s friend Famous Howard lives exclusively on take-out. In his refrigerator there are precious few items, but always a bottle of capers. Howard finds the addition of capers adds immeasurably to the flavor of almost any sandwich.

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As a history buff Howard might be excited to learn that capers are mentioned in The Epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian story from the third millennium B.C.